Compound 38

They’d recruited me in April of 1945. Well, I said recruited, they said recruited; it was just a byword to make both parties feel better about the arrangement. I had a choice, my mind –and all of the secrets buried in that maze of neurochemical pathways- could be weaponised by the Soviets, or it could be dashed to pieces by the firing squad.

Some say that just before you drown, your body convulses in mortal ecstasy. Some say that freezing to death is preceded by the deepest and most tranquil sleep. Others say that the final stages of mortal torture are pure bliss.

I find it spurious that the final moments of the mortal coil could be so idyllic, what possible evolutionary advantage could that have? Still, the point is redundant, for theorising about something for which there are no facts is pure folly. How can anybody know for certain if these stories are true, when the only witnesses to such phenomena have passed?

So perhaps it was just an urban legend, or maybe the rumours are true, but they said that Compound 38 -the gaseous chemical weapon, to which I alone knew the secret of origination- smelled like rusted iron. Continue reading

Pecklow

I looked down at the town below us. The wind atop the hill was bitter, numbing my face and hands and freezing the rest of my body down to the bone. Pecklow was an old mining town founded upon a series of hills which jutted out of the tumultuous rivers below; a mountainous island upon which only the hardiest weeds grew. The name of the town had originally meant Low Peak, but had become bastardised and corrupted over time. The bridge joining Pecklow to the mainland was an old industrial revolution era bridge of riveted iron, which once had a train track running across it from the days when Pecklow was mined for its rich coal reserves beneath the earth. Continue reading

Rojo and Brown

It was an early evening in the spring of 1950 when I last saw Ronald “Rojo” Jones. As I fumbled the key in the lock and rotated the heavy barrels, I anticipated a number of reactions he might greet me with, ranging from stoic silence to manic optimism.

The response I got, however, took me by surprise. As soon as the door was open, I looked upon his hooked nose, round glasses and slender form, and a broad smile formed on his face. Continue reading

The Corpse Candle

The flame dances in the wind, like a liquid wisp, suspended in blue over the ground, swaying vertiginously, back and forth, beckoning me to follow it. I paw at the window lightly, convinced now that the flame is real, and not some off-shot reflection on the pane.

The light casts meandering shadows among the grass of the garden. Without scorching the blades, the flame hovers in a circular motion, as if it has a will of its own. Stopping in place, doubling in size, then shrinking once more, and shooting off up to the top of the garden and dissipating into the blackness of the night. Continue reading

The Minotaur

The cave –if you could call it that- was chiselled out of limestone using old steam-powered tunnelling machinery. Originally a natural formation, the cave dipped and rose, with winding corridors which squeezed to the breadth of a human hipbone, before opening out into great domed halls; the likely result of some great cave-in from above.

Despite the crudeness of the tools used, it could be seen that the cave had been meticulously designed in a labyrinthine manner designed to entrap those who ventured inside; to what end remained unknown. Continue reading

The Mutineers of Pitcairn: A history of betrayal

“Pride, Envy, Avarice; these are the sparks that have set on fire the hearts of all men.” – Dante Alighieri

In 1787 the HMAV Bounty set sail to Tahiti to collect breadfruit saplings to provide cheap food for slaves in the West Indies. Under the command of William Bligh, the crew spent many months traveling to, and living in Tahiti.

The voyage of the Bounty, which would be its last, would go down in the annals of history as a turbulent story of betrayal, brutality, murder, mutiny and vengeance; the effects of which can still be seen today.

Far removed from the drizzle, cold and prudishness of England, Tahiti was a tropical paradise of delicious fruits, crystal lagoons, and sexual freedom. After five months of living with such freedom, and subjected to the prospect of sailing under the strict disciplinarian William Bligh, a portion of the crew –led by the young Christian Fletcher- mutinied, setting Bligh and several others adrift on the ship’s launch.

Whilst Bligh set out on one of the most famous and arduous open-boat voyages in the age of sail, the mutineers settled variously on Tahiti, and the small improperly-charted island of Pitcairn.

Of the men who mutinied, some offered their services as mercenaries to tribal chiefs, others tried to escape the island and surrender themselves to the authorities, some tried to integrate with the Tahitians.

Of those who sailed with Bligh, some died of disease and exposure, others made it back to England, and some sought revenge on those who had forced them adrift.

These are the stories of the men on that voyage; those that lived, those that died, those that mutinied, those that were kidnapped, and those that spent the rest of their lives in isolation, hiding from the vengeful hammer of the British Navy. Continue reading